Tag Archives: innovation

Building a nation of automatons


Nothing to see here, move along – Dad rant about education.
I read this letter to our Prime Minister, David Cameron, from a worried mum and it struck a chord with me.
 My gripe is not with my daughters’ school, nor their teachers, but with the with the government curriculum.
 I have the utmost respect for my daughters’ school, their teachers and the way they try to teach them.
I went to my kids’ bookshare this week. My eldest had four maths exercise books packed full. And half of one art book. Half. For almost a whole academic year.
I am not advocating that they spend all their time painting pretty pictures rather than doing maths. I am advocating that they learn creative thinking. How to solve problems laterally and creatively. To come up with solutions that they might not hitherto have dared to express, rather than regurgitate the obvious answers to facts such as 2+2=
There’s creativity in maths. Just look at fractals or architecture. Perspective/angles, shapes, fractions (composition).
Instead of asking kids what the speed of light is, (after the fact has been taught them), ask them how do they think they could travel as fast as the speed of light. I bet you’d get some fantastic answers. (Incorrect though, obviously.)
I want my children to question. And to offer up ideas as to the solution. This is how we will create the next generation of thinkers and leaders.
But perhaps we won’t. Because they probably won’t pass their sats.
Both of my children are creative. Both take singing lessons. One takes clarinet lessons and writes stories and makes her own books at home. They love reading and don’t have to be asked to do so. They both have a passion for animals and conservation. They both love to express themselves through art and sculpture. They love nature and history. And they both just got a distinction in their Musical Theatre grade 2 exam.
And they both love exploring what our wonderful world has to offer.
What they hate is: maths and English (yes, even though they love writing).
You know what I tell my daughter when she’s writing a story at home? Forget spelling, grammar and punctuation. Just get your thoughts and ideas down. We’ll get some gubbins [me] to put the apostrophes in later.
The first thing the government axes when times are tough are the arts. They are narrow-minded idiots. In my view, the arts are more important than maths. For those who haven’t seen it before, this is my mantra:
Without the arts, we wouldn’t have language or the written word. Without the arts, we have no culture. Without culture, we have no society. Without society, we have no civilisation. And without civilisation, we have anarchy.
Which, in itself, is paradoxical, because so many artists view themselves as rebels to society. To me, artists aren’t rebels, they are pioneers.
Perhaps, most importantly; without the Arts, where is the creativity that will solve the world’s problems going to come from? Including economic and scientific ones?
The government pontificates about building a nation of leaders through education. But, in reality, all they are creating are automatons who only know how to regurgitate answers to known facts. What they aren’t doing is educating children not just to answer questions, but to ask them.
This is the original letter from Beth Beynon courtesy of Andy White.
Dear Prime Minister,
Today my daughter got her Year 6 SATS results. Level 4 across the board which, my years of teaching experience tell me, is absolutely spot on for Year 6.
So can you tell me why she has spent today in tears? Why she’s lying on her bed sobbing, because she knows she’s not good enough?
There’s a part of me that barely has the energy to write this. To ask you why you insist on putting 10 and 11 year olds through a system that takes nothing of child development or good pedagogy in to account, or why you put relentless pressure on schools to up their expectations, so what was once seen as good progress is suddenly a failure. But why bother? Why bore you with analogies of weighing pigs that nobody fed? You won’t listen to highly qualified education experts, or even people who, you know, actually teach. So I’m under no illusion that you will listen to me.
I do however want to tell you what is happening in my house tonight.
My funny, intelligent, artistic daughter has received a message today.
She’s average.
The government has told her so.
And that’s not good enough.
The fact that she has rhythm in her soul, a stunning singing voice and takes people’s breath away when she dances, the fact that she thinks about the meaning of life and loves to ponder the great questions like why are we here and what our purpose could be, or the way she cared for her dying Grandmother – painting her toe nails and singing to her, the way she puts her younger sister into her own bed because she woke with a bad dream. These things that make the whole person that my daughter is. It’s all irrelevant.
She’s just average. And that’s not good enough. You’ve told her so.
Another one bites the dust.
Thing is Mr. Cameron, my daughter is wise to you. At eleven she has learned that SATS are just a game.
“I’ve not learnt anything this year Mummy,” she told me during the harrowing and stressful weeks leading up to the SATS “Just how to pass some stupid test for the stupid government”.
From the mouths of babes, Mr. Cameron, from the mouths of babes.
And so here we are. Your SATS results are in. You can number crunch to your heart’s content. You can order schools from best to worst, rank them, categorise them and make them work for you. Numbers are clever , aren’t they? Look what they did for bringing all those children out of poverty! Clever old you.
And meanwhile my daughter will go to sleep tonight despising a government that has squandered a year of her education so they can tell her she’s no more than average. And that it’s not good enough.
Oh, one more thing. She brought home her Grade Three ballet certificate today. She got a distinction.
But I don’t suppose you’re the slightest bit interested in that.

10 Comments

Filed under Art, Children, community, Creativity, Education, Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Philosophy, Politics, Writing

How Art can Save the World


Okay, let’s go back in time a while.

No, even before Sky +. I’m talking about waaaay back, before we paltry humans ever even had like proper words to talk with.

Before language, before literacy, before art, before music, before KFC, before farming, before religion, before the bronze age, before the stone age, before politics, before war, before society.

Now that’s a long time ago. That’s nearly as long ago as Leeds United last won a trophy.

I’m talking about when a bloke in a cave was trying to tell his mate that there was this big mother-fucker-mammoth down by the base of the volcano that would feed the tribe for a year – if they had a refrigerator. It’s like a scene from an early episode of Give us a clue. Except he can’t. Because language hasn’t been invented yet.

So, in frustration, the caveman, let’s call him Herb, picks up a charcoal ember from the fire and starts trying to draw what he’s seen on the cave wall. His mate, let’s call him Frank, has a bemused look on his face as if to say: You can’t draw for shit. Except he doesn’t because he can’t talk.

Eventually, after a bit of practice, Herb’s pictograms start taking shape. Suddenly, the penny drops, (except currency hasn’t been invented yet), and Frank mimics what he perceives to be a mammoth down by the volcano. Herb excitedly points one index finger at him whilst simultaneously placing his other index finger on the tip of his nose.

And thus, Art was created. (And Game Shows.)

And lo, the tribe was fed.

And while sitting around the camp fire gnawing on a mammoth hoof, Frank gesticulates that Herb’s mammoth looked more like his missus than a mammoth.

And there begineth the bar-room brawl.

Now, what better way to finish off a good feed than a bit of a knees-up. So Herb picks up a couple of sticks and starts tapping out a beat on a hollowed out log. Frank and his missus, let’s call her Marjorie, start tapping their feet and before you know it they’re cutting a jig around the fire almost setting light to Marge’s sabre-tooth tiger print frock.

And lo, music was created.

And the tribe was happy.

So, maybe it was a wet day in caveman land and all the paints were a bit soggy. Or maybe there weren’t any cave walls to paint on. Or maybe there was just too much to say for one picture. But at some stage, somebody somewhere decided that ‘ug’ meant mammoth. And ‘og’ meant dinner. Then Marge said something along the lines of: ug, og, ag, pig, bag, nog, bok, jim-jams, flim-flam, muktub, jimmy choo, pak choi, bic, ram, mo jo.

Thus, language was born. And men became hen-pecked.

And we could communicate with each other. Then came writing so we could pass on information to people we couldn’t speak to – either people faraway or people in the future.

This meandering post is about creativity. And humankind’s ability to ingeniously invent and create things to make our lives better.

Now, to my point:

The first thing western governments cut in a recession is the arts. But it is the arts, in their broadest form: language, music, literature, poetry, art etc, that have shaped all the world’s civilizations.

Without the arts, we don’t have culture. And without culture, we don’t have society. Without society we don’t have civilization and without civilisation we have anarchy.

The UK government is slashing budgets left right and centre, with anything remotely to do with the arts top of the list. With all these austerity measures citizen’s wills are bending to breaking point. And it is only going to get worse. We’ve already seen students rioting. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where this is all heading.

Maybe investing in areas that nurture our more creative and innovative sides might get us all through this economic depression into an era that shows just how ingenious and resourceful we are.

Okay, so money-where-my-mouth-is time.

Here are a couple of suggestions for ideas that could change the way we live and learn.

First up:

Vote in the wall.

This is an idea I had a while ago about how to encourage a bigger turn out in elections. Basically to hi-jack cash machines on polling day.

It would result in more people voting, which would, if had been around at the last election, have resulted in a different government. Which, let’s be fair, would be better for everyone who’s not involved with banking.

Second:

Zero Debt.

Reset all the world’s bank balances to zero and start again.
What about all the people who are actually owed money! I hear you cry.
Well, maybe the banks should suffer a little bit too. If they can make billions in profits so soon after the recession, I’m sure it wouldn’t take them too long to make their money back.

Third.

Book Depositories.

Now that the ConDems are closing all our libraries (apologies to anyone outside the UK who this doesn’t apply to), how about we turn libraries into Book Depositories?

Where rich, poor, middle class can drop off their ‘used’ books so that others might benefit.

You could even have a tie-in with books shops. ‘Drop-off’ bins instore where books can be collected then redistributed to libraries/depsoitories. What’s in it for the book shop? Well, you’ve got a customer in your shop who’s already predisposed to buying books.

I was fortunate enough to live, literally across-the-road from a small library. I used to take my kids to it all the time. It wasn’t anything to do with not being able to afford books. It was a great experience for them.

There were computers for people who didn’t have the internet. There were bridge clubs, scrabble clubs, god, they even had books!

Now it’s closing down.

This wasn’t just a library. It was a community centre.

So… Council owned, and run, Book Depositories where the council doesn’t have to pay a penny for the stock on its shelves.

There you are now,

Ideas change the world. People have ideas.

Let’s put our noodles together and creatively figure a way out of this mess.

We owe it to Herb, Frank and Marjorie. Oh, and Miriam, who’s Herb’s partner, but is a bit shy.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, community, Ideas, Illustration, Politics